5. Images and Metaphors: An Inner, Creative Ability That Separates Man from Beast.
The ability for the mind to capture the total picture of an experience is one that makes human beings unique in the world. However, until we were able to convert those "picture stories" into words, we were locked into our tribes' traditions, rarely ever escaping out into the broader knowledge of the universe outside our primitive lives. But the need to share our experience in pictures was great. Thus, artistic expression was born, and at last humans had the ability to communicate knowledge without getting locked into tribal tradition.
I remember the brilliant metaphor my Hindu professor gave in our class, "Quest for Self--East and West." Imagine that an elephant is God and is locked inside a dark room. Outside, three wise men are waiting to pay him a visit. Each one goes inside the pitch-dark room. The first takes hold of the elephant's trunk and exclaims, "Aha! God must be a long root of the banyan tree." The second wise man enters and grabs onto the elephant's (God's) tail and says, "I see. God is a snake." Finally, the last wise man enters and he walks right into the elephant's broad side. "God cannot be grasped!" he exclaims, and he runs out of the room. My professor said that each wise man represents (symbolizes) a different religion. Everyone believes differently about the essence of God, yet God remains unchanged.
Metaphors and images give us a way to communicate symbolically, so that our viewers and listeners can grasp the essence of our "picture" in one dazzling display. Electronic media is spectacular for this type of symbolic imagery because it offers so many options. But unless the digital scribe can capture the pictorial essence of his message, he is not thinking metaphorically.
Images and metaphors arise spontaneously, intact and whole, from the roots of the psyche. It is the encapsulating phenomenon which makes the experience vivid and memorable later in life. The easiest "capsules" to remember are those charged with human emotion: what you were doing when someone you loved or admired was killed; the location and circumstances of your first kiss; the setting of your first real date; your first boy/girl friend and where you were when you met him/her. These are the easy ones to symbolize in your mind, so you can recall them pretty quickly by clustering the images the way you did earlier.
Rico says we gain our ability to image in childhood by imagining such creatures as monsters, witches and fairy godmothers. (Rico 157) Even more grotesque and sometimes beautiful images come about when we are subject to highly emotional states: hunger, isolation, fear, nightmares, dreams. The images arise because it is our inner child's reaction to the emotional state brought about by experience in the outside world during the day.
For example, Shirley Jackson wrote a short story, "The Lottery," at one sitting, "in a frenzied state of urgency," and she had it in the mail to the New Yorker that same afternoon. It became one of the most controversial and most responded to stories in the history of this literary magazine. Why? It is a metaphorical image of a childhood nightmare: that the world outside the family can murder you for no reason. The reason this story was received with such emotional passion was because Ms. Jackson (like Joyce Carol Oates, my favorite contemporary female author) has the ability to describe in vivid words the nightmares which scare us in our private, inner worlds. All the great horror writers do the same thing. They have the unique ability to conjure-up particular images that are so packed with emotion that we must respond to them as readers.
Some psychiatrists say they can understand you in a special way by analyzing your dreams. Dreams are nothing more than imaging at its very best. However, the best digital scribes soon learn they must be able to dream sitting in front of the computer terminal, connected to a variety of software programs, and manipulating keystrokes, icons, sounds and graphics like a madman. Without the ability to think metaphorically, the writer will remain mediocre.
I give the following exercise to my Freshman Composition students each semester. I am going to give it to you as well. However, you must remember that thinking metaphorically is more complex if you want to be successful in the electronic writing world. Not only do you have to come up with the perfect metaphor to represent your game, your product, or your service, but you must also connect it to other enhancing sounds, animations and even entire databases. The success of the interactive game Myst, for example, has come about because the creators knew users would respond to the fantastic inner, dream-like world they created. It both scares and attracts the user, thus giving a sublime satisfaction to the inner child.
A metaphor is a comparison between "things" from different classes. These "things" can be objects, ideas, processes, or anything else we use language to represent. The metaphor can be expressed in a straightforward fashion: "You are the sunshine in my life." It can be streamlined into a name, often a product name: (Plymouth "Sundance." It can be done with a verb or verb phrase: "He was lucky to skate away from that disaster." Think of a simile as a metaphor that includes the word "like" or "as." Think of an analogy as a metaphor that has four parts: A is to B as C is to D. And don't worry about classifications. Worry about powerful, effective writing.
Metaphor is powerful because it is compact: "heart of stone." It involves the senses: "Don't rain on my parade." It explains one thing in terms of another: "Writing this paper is like wandering through a maze--I can't see where I'm going and I don't remember how I got here."
Some people use metaphor naturally. If you aren't one of them, you can still learn to write them. You can force a plant bulb to flower out of its normal season by changing the natural conditions--in effect, "fooling" the plant into blossoming in an unnatural season. In writing, you can force a metaphor into bloom by changing the natural conditions. Set out to write some, and you will. The following examples are one writer's attempts to explain an abstract process, his thinking. In "forcing" these metaphors, the student discovered something about his own thought processes and explained his discoveries in a way anyone can understand.
Example: Forcing a metaphor.
1. My thinking is like a bath tub filled to the top, with the water still running, because it is just about to overflow.
2. My thinking is like a pack rat's home because I never forget anything.
3. My thinking is like a fun house mirror, because what I am thinking comes out completely distorted when I speak.